New summer program targets Winchester’s at-risk youth


80 students met with local non-profits to learn about civic engagement.

WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) — Dozens of eighth- and ninth-grade students gathered at the Our Health Campus in downtown Winchester Wednesday morning for an unusual field trip focusing on civic engagement.

The students, some from Daniel Morgan Middle School and others from Handley High School, were part of the ASPIRE program, or Accelerated Summer Program to Increase Readiness and Engagement.

The program is a new effort by Winchester Public Schools to inspire at-risk youth to aim higher. All of the students involved have failed at least one class in the past academic year, and administrators say these students are deemed likely to drop out of school.

“It’s a program to really help them become engaged in their community and to learn what they can do to help others, while staying in school,” said Elise Stine-Dolinar, of the United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley. “We want to show these kids that they can make an impact in their community. That they can find some purpose here locally.”

Students met with leaders from local non-profits to learn how they can help others in the community, through organizations like the Highland Food Pantry or the Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity.

“We can produce quality products and they can be a part of that and see that and understand how we work,” said Matthew Peterson, the executive director of Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity. “And if they want to get involved, that’s great too.”

Other non-profit heads showed students how they can access resources for their own families.

The ASPIRE program runs through the end of July, and organizers say they have plenty more field trips planned for the kids.

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